This is the first in a series of short pieces which together form a prequel to my novel, The Witch of Glenaster.
They take place about fifteen years before the events in the book.
Marcus Strange wiped his eye with his kerchief, and squinted slightly.
His vision was still blurry, but slightly less than it was before. That eye, his right eye, always seemed to weep these days. A mercenary had taken a rapier to it nine years ago, and he’d almost lost his sight. The surgeon had spent so much time rooting around in there that at one point he’d cried out, ‘Let it be! I’d rather go blind!’ Now it just ached, and watered. He was getting old.
He pulled at his greatcoat, and felt the cold saw against his cheeks. It was always cold up here. When they assigned him to High Meadow they had told him it was a great honour, commanding a whole battalion in a vital pass through the Crying Mountains, five thousand feet above sea level, securing the western approaches to Ampar and the Three Fords. Strange had always suspected the word “honour” – to him it came freighted with bad omens.
He turned to see Captain Trevithick. He was a small man, not yet thirty, a faint beard dusting his chin. He was rocking backwards and forwards on his heels, blowing on his hands, waiting. Behind him stood Flowerday, his large ears sticking out like handles from his head, which was wrapped in a balaclava he had knitted himself. Strange always wanted to say, ‘You look ridiculous, Flowerday’, but he knew the poor man would be crushed.
These are the men who will lead my army, thought Strange, and wiped his bad eye.
“Sorry to interrupt, sir,” said Trevithick. “A messenger’s arrived. From the capital.”
Strange blinked. He was thirsty. He’d been standing outside too long.
“A messenger? What does he want?”
“Difficult to say, sir – he seems very excitable. His words came out all in a gabble. He says he has a message from the emperor himself. He wants to give it directly to you. He says it concerns a…”
Trevithick and Flowerday exchanged a look.
“A what, man?”
“A – a witch, sir.”